HL Deb 15 July 1993 vol 548 cc383-415

The Minister of State, Home Office (Earl Ferrers) rose to move, That the draft order laid before the House on 10th June be approved [34th Report from the Joint Committee].

The noble Earl said: My Lords, I beg to move that the draft British Nationality (Hong Kong) (Selection. Scheme) (Amendment) Order 1993 be approved. In moving the order I shall also speak to the draft Hong Kong (British Nationality) (Amendment) Order 1993.

In addition to the two orders which are in my name on the Order Paper we have an amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh of Haringey, and a Motion in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Bonham-Carter. I thought that it might be for the convenience of your Lordships if I said how, as a matter of procedure, I thought that we might deal with these matters.

I suggest that after I have made my speech and moved these orders the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, should then move his amendment and after that the noble Lord, Lord Bonham-Carter, should speak to his Motion. Then we can have a general debate on the whole subject.

After I have made my concluding speech at the end of the debate, in which I shall try to answer some of the points which have been raised, I shall move the first order. Before that is put to the House the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, will move his amendment. When that amendment has been decided on, the original order, as amended or unamended, will be put and decided on. Then the second order will be put and decided on. The Motion in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Bonham-Carter, will then be put and decided on.

I hope that this advice on how we might proceed will meet with the approval of your Lordships.

To return to the orders which are in my name on the Order Paper, subject: to the approval of your Lordships, the selection scheme order will come into force on 3rd January 1994 and the Hong Kong (British Nationality) (Amendment) Order will come into force on 21st July 1993.

Detailed arrangements governing the selection scheme were introduced by the British Nationality (Hong Kong) (Selection Scheme) Order 1990. These allowed applications for British citizenship to be made in tranches. Perhaps I may remind your Lordships that quotas were set for four classes of applicant. They were: the general occupational class, the disciplined services class, the sensitive service class, and the entrepreneurs class. The British Nationality (Hong Kong) Act 1990 provided for up to 50,000 places to be made available to British nationals in those four classes and the various groups of which they were comprised.

The selection scheme allows for points to be given for various attributes such as age, education, experience and so forth. Citizenship is given to those who score the most points.

Of the 50,000 places, 38,000 were assigned for distribution under the first tranche, which started in December 1990 and finishes on 1st January 1994. We are well on target to complete the first tranche by the end of the year. As at 3rd July, we had registered 31,568 principal beneficiaries together with 52,876 dependants.

The next phase of the scheme will be the last. Nearly four-fifths of the places will have been allocated by then. The second and last phase will begin on 3rd January 1994 and will last until 30th June 1997 —at which point the Chinese assume the sovereignty of Hong Kong.

The new order makes some relatively minor adjustments to the selection scheme in the light of the experience which we obtained in the first tranche. At first sight your Lordships may find the detail of the order rather daunting —with a little algebra inserted to remind your Lordships of your schooldays. It may be helpful, therefore, if I were to explain its main provisions.

The 1990 order has been found to be somewhat rigid, and the main aim of the new order is to modify certain provisions of the scheme so as to make it easier to allocate the remaining places. The order will allow us to allocate the remaining places in such a way that more places can be provided to those areas where the demand has been strongest.

The orders which are before your Lordships this evening do not, however, make any separate provision for non-Chinese ethnic minorities to acquire British citizenship. Non-Chinese ethnic minorities can, of course, participate in the scheme in the same way as everybody else. The Motion which appears on the Order Paper in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Bonham-Carter, and which he will move shortly, urges the Government to give British citizenship to the members of that community. We wait with interest to hear what the noble Lord says.

In the first tranche of the selection scheme there are one or two categories in which fewer people than expected have applied for citizenship. That has occurred mostly among private sector managers and administrators. There has been a shortfall of applicants in that category of some 4,250, and among the police there has been a shortfall of about 150 applicants. It also appears that the number of potentially successful candidates in both the sensitive service class and the entrepreneurs class may turn out to be less than that for which provision had been made in the quota. The order provides, therefore, for places to be transferred from those categories to groups where they will be used.

It is anticipated that any transfers between groups and classes will take place on a date to be specified by the Governor. That will probably be before the processing of applications in the relevant group or class has been completed, but not until the Hong Kong Government have established the size of the unused quota.

Places in the second tranche will be allocated to individual groups on the basis of the same attributes as those which were used in the first tranche, but places will also be allocated in relation to the strength of demand from individual groups who applied in the first tranche. A few adjustments have been made to the scheme, but they are all technical.

So much for the selection scheme order. The second order—the Hong Kong (British Nationality) (Amendment) Order—sets out a number of deadlines by which British Dependent Territory citizens need to register as British nationals (overseas) if they wish to have this status. The purpose of this order is to ensure that those who wish to acquire British dependent territory citizenship and British national (overseas) status can acquire those statuses—or more properly, I think, "stati"—before Hong Kong reverts to China in 1997. British dependent territory citizenship expires at that point.

The Hong Kong (British Nationality) Order 1986 provides that all British dependent territory citizens can acquire British national (overseas) status and passports before that date.

Under the terms of the United Kingdom Memorandum which is attached to the Joint Declaration, and Article 4(2) of the Hong Kong (British Nationality) Order 1986, we cannot process applications for British national (overseas) status after 30th June 1997 when the Chinese assume the sovereignty of Hong Kong.

It is estimated that there are some 3.3 million British dependent territory citizens who are, or who will be, eligible for British national (overseas) status and in fact only half a million of them have so far obtained British national (overseas) passports.

Unless we act now, the fear is that many of those 3.3 million people who are eligible will apply very close to 1997, and the Hong Kong Immigration Department will not physically be able to process so many applications before the 30th June deadline.

There would clearly be a serious problem if large numbers of applications were to remain unprocessed after the deadline had been reached. We are therefore anxious to institute a phased programme of British national (overseas) registrations so as to encourage an orderly flow of applications and to avoid an overwhelming last minute rush.

We think that cut-off dates for the acquisition of both Hong Kong British dependent territory citizens and British national (overseas) status are the only way to ensure that the people who are eligible for British national (overseas) status can acquire it if they so wish. Without any deadlines, there are no incentives for people to apply in good time.

The order therefore makes cut-off dates for different age groups, at three to five month intervals. The first cut-off date will come into place in October this year for 22 to 26 year-olds. The last one will come into place in September 1997 for children who were born in the last six months prior to hand-over.

The Governor will have discretion to accept late applications in certain cases. Those would be in respect of people who will not have fulfilled the time requirement for them to have British dependent territory citizenship before their British national (overseas) citizen cut-off date had passed. The governor will also have discretion for applicants who may have some other good reason for not having applied before.

The Governor has proposed that an appeal panel should be set up to deal with any late cases which the Immigration Department may refuse, and that is being discussed with the Hong Kong Legislative Council.

In order to ensure that there will be sufficient time to naturalise those who wish to become British dependent territory citizens—and subsequently British nationals (overseas)—the order states that 31st March 1996 will be the cut-off date for the acquisition of British dependent territory citizenship.

Those proposals have caused some concern in Hong Kong, especially among members of the Legislative Council who were unhappy about the removal of the right to become a British national (overseas) at any time up to 30th June 1997. In their view. it was important that applicants should be able to retain their British dependent territory citizen status right up to the 1997 deadline.

There was never any question of applicants losing British dependent territory citizenship, and they will, therefore, be allowed to retain evidence of the fact that they are British dependent territory citizens by retaining their British dependent territory citizen passport when they register as British nationals (overseas) and when the acquire British national (overseas) passports. They will therefore have two passports: the British dependent territory citizen passport, which will last up to 30th June 1997; and the British national (overseas) passport which will be valid from the moment it is issued until and after 30th June 1997. On that basis I understand that the legislative councillors have withdrawn their objections to the order.

The orders have been produced in order that the transitional arrangements should proceed as smoothly as possible for the benefit of Hong Kong. I commend the order to your Lordships.

Moved, That the draft order laid before the House on 10th June be approved [34th Report from the Joint Committee].—(Earl Ferrers.)

6.34 p.m.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey rose to move, as an amendment to the above Motion, at end to insert ("but that this House regrets that the opportunity was lost to improve the future security of the Hong Kong disciplined services.")

The noble Lord said: My Lords, the Minister has presented the orders with his usual courtesy and clarity. I hope that he will forgive me if I say that he has presented them as being somewhat technical and administrative orders. They are more than that. These are people to whom we in this country owe a debt of honour stretching back over many years. They are people for whom provision has been made in the 1985 and 1990 Acts which, as your Lordships will recall, caused a great deal of controversy at the time. I remember in particular the interventions of my noble friend Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos when the Acts were first placed before Parliament.

However, the orders have never been simply administrative or technical. The orders now presented to the House appear to assume that the issues of principle have been resolved and that all we need to do is to proceed to the next, second and final stage of the implementation of the Acts. I wish to suggest to your Lordships that that is riot the case; that in all the administrative actions that this country takes we must retain still our consciousness all the time of the needs —they are often changing needs—of the people who live in Hong Kong, whatever passport they hold. After all, as we have been reminded by the debates on citizenship during consideration of the European Communities (Amendment) Bill, there is a comparable situation between Hong Kong and Macao. Portugal has taken a different point of view with regard to Macao which could well result in people in Macao acquiring European citizenship—citizenship of the European Union, and citizenship of Portugal —which would enable those people to come to this country while citizens of Hong Kong would not be able to do so. We have to bear that in mind. not as a primary consideration, but as a reminder of the nature of the obligation that we have to fulfil.

The amendment in my name, and the Motion in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Bonham-Carter., are being debated together with the two orders. It would clearly be improper for me to anticipate in detail the debate on the Motion to be introduced by the noble Lord, Lord Bonham-Carter. Therefore, I merely wish to say that we fully support his Motion. The Minister will reply before either the noble Lord, Lord Bonham-Carter, or I make up our minds what to do about the amendment and Motion standing in our names. We expect the Minister's reply to recognise the strength of feeling which exists about the issues and the need for a more flexible and humanitarian approach.

I have put down my amendment in consultation with my noble friend Lord Shackleton, Unfortunately, he did not meet the 12 noon deadline to have his name on the list of speakers. With the leave of the House, he will seek to speak in the gap. He will expand with far more authority and knowledge than I can on the needs of members of the disciplined services in Hong Kong.

In effect, the issues are the same: are we to be controlled by administrative procedures, or are we to ensure that we are in control of administrative procedures? When speaking to the second order, the Minister described a series of deadlines, of cut off dates, which will apply to people of different ages. That was not the expectation when the Bill was before Parliament. It was expected that there would be an opportunity for those concerned to acquire British national (overseas) status right up to the deadline of 30th June 1997. There was no suggestion that those aged 22 to 26 would suddenly become ineligible after October 1993. The suggestions are made by those who are not prepared to ensure that we have the manpower and resources to deal with major humanitarian issues at the time when people need them to be dealt with between now and 1997. The provisions are made by people who put administrative convenience above the interests of the people of Hong Kong.

Similarly, on the first order, the Minister started by saying that we were well on target to complete the first tranche. But then he admitted in detail the extent to which there has been a shortfall until now in certain of the categories. He has admitted that there is the possibility of a shortfall of at least 4,000 people which, even if we confine ourselves to the figure of a total of 50,000, could be used for other purposes. Can it ever be anything other than administrative convenience that has led Ministers, in full knowledge of the shortfall in some categories, to refuse to use that shortfall for the benefit of those who are not included? I am conscious that I should not intrude too far on the Motion of the noble Lord, Lord Bonham-Carter, but he understands the difficulty in which I find myself.

The difficulty which we all have is that we are talking about a place many thousands of miles away, but we behave as though we were legislating for our own home territory. We are not taking the views of the people of Hong Kong into account in the administrative arrangements that we make in the orders. We are not fully qualified to do so; we do not know what is going on. In this debate we have the benefit not only of the valued presence of the noble Baroness, Lady Dunn, but of many noble Lords who have direct experience of the situation in Hong Kong. They have a direct contribution to make, for which we are grateful. I suggest that it is slightly absurd that we should legislate in this detailed way for a country which has been encouraged by its present GovernorGeneral—and good luck to him—to seek more democratic institutions in the time since he has been there.

Until I hear the Minister's reply, I am not certain what action I propose to take on my amendment to the order, but I know that the Minister should take seriously the view from these Benches, and I know that he will wish also to take seriously the view of other noble Lords participating in the debate. We are not satisfied with the provision being made. We do not believe that it should be the final decision between now and June 1997. We wish the Government to recognise the strength of anxiety which is being expressed both in Hong Kong and here. I beg to move.

6.45 p.m.

Lord Bonham-Carter

My Lords, in rising to speak to the Government's Motion, I shall address the Motion standing in my name on the Order Paper. I say straightaway that I am most grateful for the support given to my Motion by the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh. I fully reciprocate by supporting the amendment which he moved so convincingly and powerfully. I hope that the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, will take into account the fact that the amendment is endorsed by no less a person than the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, whose birthday it is today. The noble Earl could easily give him a good birthday present. I wish to associate myself also with the statement by the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, about our continuing duties and obligations to the people of Hong Kong and most particularly to the two groups we are discussing.

The whole thrust of British policy since negotiations with China about the handover of Hong Kong in 1997 began has been that we have tried, in the Joint Declaration and in the Basic Law, to do everything in our power to defend the rights, freedoms, prosperity and security of the people of Hong Kong after the transfer of power. That has been the thrust of our policy, and quite rightly so.

However, in addition to the group to which the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, referred, there is one small group of, at the most, 7,000 people, but probably less, and that is the group to which my Motion refers—the non-Chinese ethnic minority groups, who are particularly vulnerable. I do not believe that that can be denied.

Under the Joint Declaration and the Basic Law, after the transfer of power in 1997 members of that group will have a right of abode in Hong Kong. But they do not have the right to acquire Chinese nationality, although they have been told that they can apply for a "special Chinese passport". They may or may not receive it, and it will not give them Chinese nationality. They will also have the right to have the status of a British national (overseas) which is, in effect, not much more than a travel document. It gives the holder of the status no right of abode anywhere except in Hong Kong.

According to Justice, the rights which the BNO confers are slim. British national (overseas) citizenship provides for consular protection abroad, except in China of which Hong Kong will become a part after 1997. It is precisely there that one would have thought there was most need for consular protection which will not exist. Moreover, the status of BNO runs out in the third generation.

In the view of Justice—I quote it because it has considerable legalqualifications—those people are being "rendered effectively stateless". That view is shared by the International Commission of Jurists, as it will be by most people on the grounds of common sense. After all, what is the point or the meaning of belonging to a state if one cannot live there and does not have its protection? Those are the two rights which people who belong to a state expect to receive —the right of abode and the right to protection when one is not living there. As I understand it, neither of those rights will be available to that group of citizens.

In addition, it is probable that the United Kingdom will be in breach of its obligations under the Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness 1961 which obliges signatories on the transfer of territory to ensure that, no person shall become stateless as a result". That is not a matter that we can lightly set aside. It should be taken seriously. I hope that the noble Earl will deal with it in his reply.

In another place on 9th July, Mr. Wardle, Under-Secretary of State at the Home Office, correctly identified the nature of the problem. He said: The question at the heart of the debate is whether special measures should be taken for that section of the Hong Kong community, the section to which I refer— or whether they should compete, like everybody else, for the 50,000 British citizenship places".—[Official Report, Commons, 9/7/93; col. 650.] The mistake that he makes is that this group is not like everybody else. It is precisely because they are not like everybody else that they feel vulnerable, are vulnerable and deserve protection. If they were like everyone else, that is, Chinese, ethnically, they would automatically receive Chinese nationality after 1997. It is because they are not Chinese ethnically, and are not like everybody else in Hong Kong, that they require special treatment. The protection that we can offer them, and for which they ask, is full British citizenship.

The numbers are small, and the situation is unique. If their fears prove to be without foundation, they will not come here. They want to stay in Hong Kong. Therefore, we are not risking very much if, as the Government say, their fears are groundless. If, on the other hand, their fears are justified, we have given an undertaking which can only be interpreted as meaning that we will take them in. It therefore seems to me that we both behave badly and do not protect ourselves against what the Government fear will happen. That seems to me the worst of all worlds.

Nor am I alone in my belief of what is the right thing for us to do in the circumstances. The House of Commons Select Committee on Foreign Affairs advocates that course. So does Justice; so does the International Commission of Jurists; so does the Governor, Christopher Patten; and so, unanimously, does the Legislative Council (LEGCO), about which no doubt the noble Baroness, Lady Dunn, will speak. We greatly look forward to hearing what she has to say on the subject.

The Government have so far refused to reconsider their position. That refusal is based on the assertion that the fears of the ethnic minorities are groundless. I hope that I dealt with that proposition. In refusing, the Government appear to regard the figure of 50,000 as in some sense sacred and unchangeable. But there is nothing sacred about 50,000. It might just as well have been 45,000, or 65,000, or even more, as some of us at the time greatly wished. It is a purely arbitrary figure. If the Government so wish, they can change it. Even if it means legislation, so be it. There is nothing magical about the figure of 50,000. I urge noble Lords to put the utmost pressure on the Government so that we can carry out our obligations properly.

Mr. Wardle also said, at col. 652: We see the ethnic minorities in the same way as all other British nationals in Hong Kong". But they are not the same as all other British nationals in Hong Kong. Unless that point is grasped, one cannot understand the case that is being made. I hope that the noble Earl will tell us how we can possibly pretend that this group of people are exactly the same as the other inhabitants of Hong Kong. It is a mistake so to think. And from that mistake flows the mistaken, and, I believe, rather shameful, position in which we are. Those people came to Hong Kong because it is British. Many of them were brought there at our instigation. They have served the colony well. Their only nationality is British. They deserve our protection, and we owe it to them to give it by making them British citizens.

6.55 p.m.

Baroness Dunn

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for moving this Motion. I have travelled from Hong Kong to be here to support it. As we have come to expect from the noble Lord, he raises an important issue of principle that I know troubles the conscience of many Members of this House. It is one that affects the future of a small number of non-Chinese British nationals who face statelessness after 1997.

Today, they are the Queen's subjects. They settled in a British colony to enjoy British governance and to give allegiance and loyal service to the Crown. They have contributed to Hong Kong's wealth and diversity. Many fought in defence of British territory. Their ties with the countries from which their families came have long since lapsed. They are now British dependent territory citizens, but will lose that status in 1997. They have no other sovereign but Her Majesty the Queen. Soon they will have none.

Ministers have argued against granting full British citizenship to members of this group on two main grounds: first, that the provisions in the Sino-British Joint Declaration and the Chinese Basic Law give them sufficient protection; secondly, that this is not a special case for setting a precedent.

As to the first of those grounds, under the Joint Declaration and the Basic Law, after 1997 this group can have a right of abode in the Chinese special administrative region of Hong Kong; but they have no right to Chinese nationality. They can travel on a form of British travel document; but they have no right of abode in Britain. they can chance their luck and apply for Chinese nationality; but Chinese nationality laws are based on race, and they have no affinity with Chinese culture.

Ministers may argue that these improvised arrangements are good enough, but no one could argue that they are an honourable solution. Many eminent authorities have given their opinions that these people will be rendered stateless. The Times puts it more vividly: they will find themselves in "a legal no-man's land".

As to the second argument, this is a uniquely special case, as noble Lords well know. No other citizens of Britain face statelessness. What is to take place in Hong Kong has no precedent in British colonial history. Hong Kong is not offered independence: sovereignty is to be transferred to another state where these British nationals will have no right to become citizens.

For years now the ethnic minority has pressed its case with dignity. Like all of us, those people want to continue to live and work in Hong Kong. But they are apprehensive that after 1997 there will be no sovereign obliged to protect them if and when, in the turbulence of time, they have to face the unpalatable fact that they are nobody's nationals and citizens of nowhere.

Last week, in another place, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, replying for the Government, assured the non-Chinese ethnic minority in Hong Kong that if they ever came under pressure to leave Hong Kong and had nowhere else to go, the British Government of the day would be expected to consider sympathetically their case for admission to the United Kingdom.

That is simply not good enough to discharge the constitutional obligations that go with sovereignty. Furthermore, it only echoes firm pledges made before on behalf of Her Majesty's Government—in 1985 by the noble Baroness, Lady Young, and in 1986 by the then Home Secretary in another place—pledges that were made to all British dependent territory citizens in Hong Kong, not just the small ethnic minority. Hong Kong British dependent territory citizens attached great importance to those undertakings, as I did. Today, there is alarm and resentment that not only is there no solution to the problem of the ethnic minority but that Her Majesty's Government are backtracking on undertakings given to all British dependent territory citizens.

But we have not yet despaired of the enduring values on which Britain prides itself. We still hope for an honourable and just solution. We expect fair treatment by the British Crown for British subjects. It is a tribute to the way in which British values have taken root in Hong Kong's soil that the predominantly Chinese population do not begrudge special treatment for the ethnic minority. Successive legislatures have been united in pressing their case.

By granting full British citizenship to that small group of vulnerable and deserving British nationals, there can be no clearer signal given to the people of Hong Kong that Britain understands the unique complexities of Hong Kong's situation. There can be no better example that Britain takes the moral stance not only on large matters but on small ones, too. There can be no firmer commitment that Britain has the will and the determination to do right by its subjects in Hong Kong.

Yesterday in this House I listened to impassioned speeches about the right of people to choose their future and the duty of elected representatives of the people to exercise their judgment in the best interests of the people. It was a poignant reminder to me that the people of Hong Kong had neither the right to choose their future nor the right to elect those who decide their destiny. Their fate on so many important issues affecting their fundamental rights and freedoms has been decided without their say.

I am privileged to be able to plead in this House the case of the minority. This House is renowned for its compassion and humanity, its independence and fairness. My Lords, do not deny their trust. I urge your Lordships to support their case.

7.5 p.m.

Lord Glenarthur

My Lords, my main reason for wishing to take part in this debate this evening is that the current commitment by Her Majesty's Government to non-ethnic Chinese British dependent territory citizens and their admission to this country was written in words drafted by me and given to your Lordships on 16th May 1986 when I moved that the Hong Kong (British Nationality) Order 1986 be agreed to.

In those days I was at least in part in the shoes that my noble friend Lord Ferrers finds himself wearing this evening. Subsequently I had to live with that commitment, as the Minister responsible for Hong Kong. Indeed, as I am sure both the noble Baroness, Lady Dunn, and the noble Lord, Lord Wilson of Tillyorn, will recall, those words were played back to me at fairly regular intervals. I have to say that my experience of Hong Kong both over the period in which I had that responsibility and subsequently has somewhat coloured my opinion. What I said on that occasion in 1986 was that I would go further than assurances given before. I said that I would: go further than the assurances so far given to the community"— that is the community of non-ethnic Chinese BDTCs— by this Government by saying that we should consider it an obligation upon any future government to treat with very considerable and particular sympathy the case for admission to the United Kingdom of any individual British national who, against all our present expectations, came under pressure to leave Hong Kong".—[Official Report, 16/5/86; col. 1437.] I well understand and appreciate the sentiments expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Bonham-Carter. But the commitment that I gave, in the face of considerable pressure, as some of your Lordships will recall, to do something of that kind from all sides of the House to meet similar, if not precisely the same, concerns as those expressed this evening, was a considerable one.

It was a commitment of unusual proportions. To place an obligation on future governments of any party and have it accepted, is going a great deal further than usually can be thought of as satisfactory or mutually agreed. Indeed, the noble Lord, Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos, to whom the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh of Haringey, referred, expressed concern at the original 1986 order. He went so far as to say at that time that the word "obligation" was crucial. He said that his party would honour it and would consider taking other steps as well.

I accept that the mood in Hong Kong has changed since 1986. Tiananmen Square, the slow progress of the JLG talks, about which in 1986 I was able to be quite bullish, the delays in agreeing infrastructural developments and Chinese concerns about the Hong Kong democracy proposals have all changed the climate of opinion in Hong Kong. The 30th June 1997 is less than four years away.

I have to say that I found the words of the noble Baroness, Lady Dunn, this evening extremely convincing. Despite the change in the mood in Hong Kong, there is a case to say that the potential circumstances of non-ethnic Chinese British dependent territory citizens has not, at least yet, altered as much as some would claim. Her Majesty's Government have gone a long way toward meeting legitimate concerns about BN(O) passport holders, British dependent territory citizens and others, including Crown servants and ex-servicemen as well as those BDTCs who are not ethnically Chinese and who, as has been explained so well this evening, have no other form of citizenship.

However, we must still consider whether what is proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Bonham-Carter, would be fair in relation to others; would be effective; would benefit subsequent generations and would secure people's confidence let alone encourage their continual abode in Hong Kong after 1997.

The noble Baroness, Lady Dunn, and the noble Lord, Lord Bonham-Carter, make very real points when they say that those concerned would effectively ultimately become stateless. There are many aspects in regard to our handling of Hong Kong over recent months which have troubled me. I am on record in that regard and shall not repeat them this evening. I am encouraged that matters are now beginning to move more positively. I hope that the momentum, generated following my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary's recent visit to Peking, can be maintained.

On the substance of the Motion of the noble Lord, Lord Bonham-Carter, while the assurances that I was able to give for the Government in 1986 were honourable, far-reaching and a substantial commitment and were right for that moment, they may not necessarily have stood the test of time. The time may well come when the Government will have to give in to the demands legitimately being made by the community in Hong Kong and address more starkly the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Bonham-Carter, and the noble Baroness, Lady Dunn. I suspect that Her Majesty's Government will gain considerable credit for accepting that fact now rather than being pushed by circumstances into later acceptance, when the force of so doing will not have such a positive effect on confidence for all concerned as it may have now.

I cannot go so far as to support the amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh of Haringey. What I have heard this evening makes me feel more in tune with the Motion in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Bonham-Carter. However, I hope that a Division on either Motion will not take place. I hope also that my noble friend Lord Ferrers will be much more forthcoming when he winds up and can give an indication that the Government are prepared to think again on the matter. My view is that my earlier commitment, given on behalf of the Government, was sufficient for its time. But in the light of current circumstances it does not go far enough nor as far as 1 should like to see in 1993.

7.15 p.m.

Lord Wilson of Tillyorn

My Lords, I must apologise to the House for not being in my place at the start of the debate. Having been here last night, together with a cast of hundreds, I had to chair a meeting in Scotland in the earlier part of this afternoon. A combination of this debate starting early, the aircraft being late and the traffic being more than usually heavy led me to the discourtesy of not being present at the beginning. I apologise particularly to the Minister and the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh of Haringey, for not being here when they spoke. However, I was particularly pleased to be present for the speech of my noble friend Lady Dunn, who had come a great deal further than the shuttle flight from Edinburgh. She spoke with all the authority and feeling which one would expect, and I have a great deal of sympathy with her views.

The question of nationality is always an emotional one. It affects people's sense of belonging and security. Indeed, it affects several generations in the future because on this issue people think not only of themselves, but also of their children and their children's children. One can see people in Hong Kong planning their lives in that sense—for the sake of their children and their grandchildren. That is why these issues must be handled with particular care and sensitivity.

On that score the Government have reacted to the Hong Kong (British Nationality) (Amendment) Order with sensitivity. The Legislative Council sent a delegation to express concern about some of the effects of what was written into the order, reflecting concern felt in Hong Kong that if people had to go through a process of applying now for new passports, and lost their BDTC passports, in some way they may be deprived of some right. It would have been easy for the Government to be bureaucratic on such an issue. It would have been easy for them to brush aside those concerns. It is greatly to their credit that they did neither and instead came up with a pragmatic, sensible, flexible solution by which people, when they obtain their new passports, can also keep their old BDTC passports until 1997.

There is another issue on which similar sensitivity and flexibility is required; that is, the question raised by the noble Lord, Lord Bonham-Carter of the non-Chinese ethnic minorities. The Joint Declaration and the documents associated with it went to great trouble to deal with the difficult issue of nationality, passports and right of abode. It came up with a pretty good solution. Since then there has been the British nationality package. It may not have allowed for as many UK passports as some, including myself, argued for at the time. But given the political circumstances it was a brave and forward act by Her Majesty's Government. It had the required effect of encouraging people crucial to the economic success of Hong Kong to stay in that territory.

However, one group was left out of those moves, and that is the ethnic minorities. As has already been pointed out by the noble Lord, Lord Bonham-Carter, the numbers are small. We were given a figure of 7,000; I have heard the figure of 5,000) mentioned; the number is diminishing rather than becoming greater. It is a community which came to Hong Kong because Hong Kong was under British administration. Many came to serve the Hong Kong Government or joined the disciplined forces. It is a community which contributed enormously to the success of Hong Kong, economically and in terms of its administration. It is a community which deserves our sympathy.

It could be argued that to do something special for that group would be divisive. The noble Lord, Lord Glenarthur, was implying that at one time that had been the thinking—and indeed it was—and justifiably so. It can no longer be looked at in that light. After all, we had a delegation from the Legislative Council with the unanimous support of that council (the Legislative Council is not noted for being unanimous on many things but on that issue it was unanimous) pressing the British Government to take action. Therefore the argument that it would be divisive to do something special no longer holds good.

It may be argued that those people will be able to obtain BNO passports; that their children will be able to obtain BOC passports after 1997; that their grandchildren in certain circumstances will be able to obtain BOC passports and so they will be covered. But that is the end of the line. After those grandchildren there is no passport; there is no form of nationality. Anyhow, as has been argued before, those documents will be seen as travel documents rather than any form of citizenship. Therefore we have a unique group of people. We are pressed by the Legislative Council of Hong Kong to treat them in a unique way. We must respond accordingly and with sympathy.

Perhaps I can mention one point which I was asked to raise by the noble Lord, Lord Geddes, who has taken a great interest in these matters. He regrets that he cannot be here this evening. He has taken an interest in this matter since 1981 and has great sympathy for the Motion spoken to by the noble Lord, Lord Bonham-Carter.

I mention briefly the amendment proposed by the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh of Haringey. I have sympathy for anything that helps the work of the disciplined services in Hong Kong. Both the disciplined services of the Hong Kong Government and the Hong Kong people who have served in the United Kingdom forces in Hong Kong make a notable contribution. However, I find it hard to believe that we should distort the very careful arrangements that have been made for the British nationality package. As the order makes clear, they are complicated but very carefully worked out. It has been said that one needs a degree in computer science before one knows how the points will work out, but the essential matter is that those arrangements have been made with great care. I do not think that it would be right to distort them.

But I believe that it would be right to look sympathetically at the position of the non-Chinese ethnic minorities. I hope that when the Minister comes to sum up he will be able to tell us that the Government recognise that this is a group with special concerns which the Government will look at and try to meet.

7.23 p.m.

Lord Bramall

My Lords, the last time I was debating with the noble Lord, Lord Bonham-Carter (which was on the subject of cricket) I found myself on the opposite side, although I greatly respected his views which subsequently turned out to be more appropriate than mine. I am glad to say that this time we are on the same side. I support most strongly what he and other noble Lords have said about proper citizenship for the non-ethnic Chinese minority of Hong Kong, largely of Indian origin.

I know that other noble Lords can do this so much better than I can. In particular, we have heard the speeches of my noble friend Baroness Dunn and my noble friend Lord Wilson of Tillyorn based on their great experience. I add my voice to theirs. In all this we would be backing only what the Hong Kong people themselves, through their Legislative Council, had carefully considered to be fair and just. We would all hope that in Hong Kong, where we have such a deep and binding obligation, Government action in respect of those people would still have a large moral and ethical content and would not be influenced purely by expediency. I believe that it is morally completely wrong to have a group of people who after 1997 will have no proper guarantee of citizenship but only travel documents and British national (overseas) status, and certainly no guaranteed long-term right of abode, so that they will be virtually stateless, whereas in a generation or so their descendants will become completely stateless and lose their passports. That will be so unless they take Chinese citizenship, which will be given automatically to those of Chinese origin. They may not want that, and indeed may not be offered it. The same applies to a return to their country of origin with which they have long since cut any ties or connections.

I know that in the statement great play has been made of the fact that if after 1997 any of these people are, for whatever reason, forced to leave Hong Kong and their position becomes untenable, successive governments here will give sympathetic consideration to granting them right of entry and abode in the United Kingdom. That statement purportedly committing all subsequent administrations (though I do not know how) is so vague and contains so many loopholes that it can hardly be expected to give this deeply and rightly worried group of people any confidence that they will not be abandoned in the near future, as they certainly will be abandoned in the longer term.

This comparatively small group of people, adding up with dependants to no more than 7,000 (some of whom I came to know well and worked with when I served under my noble friend Lord MacLehose of Beoch when he was Governor), went to Hong Kong a number of years ago. Many went there before the great influx from Shanghai at the end of the 1940s and early 1950s. They went there not because of any particular links with China but because the British were there and they wanted to serve them and work under their protection. This they have done in many capacities: frontier police, security guards, government clerks and so on. They have done that with great loyalty, pride and a sense of duty as servants of the Crown. They look upon themselves as British and have a right to be treated as such, just as the citizens of Gibraltar, who went to the rock to support the British garrison, have done and as a result have been rewarded with full British citizenship and right of abode.

As has been said by noble Lords, the great majority of those 7,000 would wish to continue to live in Hong Kong and serve the local administration, if they were allowed to do so. I do not think that there need be any fear of a mass exodus all at once. But I believe that the least we can honourably do, if we are to live up to our unique responsibility to this small group of loyal servants to the Crown, is offer them proper British citizenship and right of abode now or at least immediately after 1997. I believe that those who have been closer to the problem more recently than I have will agree with me that if this is to be done it must be a separate arrangement and not come out of the existing quota of 50,000 to be granted to those from elsewhere in Hong Kong and for other reasons.

Finally, I emphasise that in granting this we would only be doing what the people of Hong Kong themselves feel is a fair and just solution.

7.28 p.m.

Lord Marlesford

My Lords, earlier this afternoon I was told that 18 speakers had to be fitted into an hour. According to my calculation, each would have 3.3 minutes if we all had the same amount of time. I knew that would not be the case, so I prepared a speech that would last 30 seconds. As the position now appears to be slightly different I ask your Lordships' indulgence if I multiply that by a small figure.

I am afraid that I do not rise to speak in favour of the Motion of the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh of Haringey. Having listened as carefully to his speech as I was able to, frankly I could not understand what he was getting at, but I am sure that that was my failure. However, I rise to support strongly the Motion in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Bonham-Carter. It was almost exactly 30 years ago that The Times contained a leading article—probably one of the most influential leaders that it ever had—under the title, "It is a moral issue". I suggest that that is the theme of this debate. Having listened to the noble Baroness, Lady Dunn, and the noble Lord, Lord Wilson of Tillyorn, it is clear to me that there is a very real obligation to this small number of people.

I make two or three rather obvious points. First, I do not believe that China has any obligation to those people in comparison with Britain's obligation. Secondly, they are not, and we should not see them as, economic migrants. Indeed, if they were economic migrants Hong Kong of all places would fully understand why we were not prepared for that reason to admit them. That does not mean I do not believe that if they come to this country—probably not many of the 7,000 will do so—they will make a very considerable economic contribution, because practically everybody who comes to Britain from Hong Kong does this country nothing but good.

What I say to my noble friend who is to answer this debate is that I for one will not be happy if the House is told that under the arrangements to be made for these people they will get passports that give them the right to come to Britain and that if they are here for a sufficient length of time they will then qualify for British nationality. I am not prepared to accept an undertaking that in the unforeseeable circumstances of three or four years' time there would necessarily be —under the administrative procedures which could well then be in force—agreement for them to stay for long enough to get that right of British citizenship.

Therefore, I must say to my noble friend that unless we get a firm and watertight commitment to fulfil an obligation which is a very small one—when I say "a very small one" I suggest a perhaps fanciful analogy: that somehow there is something worse about someone who robs an old lady for a few pennies than someone who robs a bank manager for several thousand pounds; both are wrong but the first is, in my view, worse than the second—I would be prepared to support the noble Lord, Lord Bonham-Carter, should he choose to divide the House.

7.31 p.m.

Lord Chalfont

My Lords, I am not quite sure of the implications of the somewhat convoluted procedures of the Motions and the amendment, but if it is in order I should like to support both the amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh of Haringey, and the Motion introduced by the noble Lord, Lord Bonham-Carter.

The noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, referred to The Times leader which was headed "It is a moral issue". Perhaps I may remind the noble Lord that that leader was in fact about what was then called the Profumo affair. Nevertheless, I agree with him entirely that this also is a moral issue.

Speaking generally, before addressing the terms of the Motion and the amendment, I have had experience of Hong Kong for around 40 years since I first went there as a British Army officer. I have been on many occasions since in various incarnations. I have grown to have an enormous admiration for the people of that island. They are industrious, ingenious and attractive people. I have to say that the arrangements that have been made for them after 1997 when the island is quite understandably handed over to the Chinese have been somewhat less than generous.

A comparison was made in the debate with Portugal and Macao. Perhaps it may seem to your Lordships somewhat extreme but I should have thought it quite acceptable that all the citizens of Hong Kong should have been given the right of abode in this country if they so wished it. They are, as I have said, industrious and ingenious, and as has already been suggested, if they all descended upon us—not a likely eventuality—I cannot help thinking that they would have an enormously beneficial effect upon the somewhat battered economy of this country. They would not, of course, exercise that right because there is reason to believe that after 1997 most of the citizens of Hong Kong of all ethnic categories will want to stay there. But they may not, and it is for that reason I believe that we have been less than generous and less than imaginative in our treatment of them.

I have a special reason for speaking about the discipline forces—and especially the armed forces—in Hong Kong, many of whom will have special difficulties when the Chinese take over in 1997. I know that some special arrangements have been made, especially for people who have been working in sensitive appointments and areas, but I still think that we have not done enough. For example, there is a military unit in Hong Kong which is in the order of battle of the British Army. It is a unit of the British Army. When I visited the unit recently at its base in Stonecutters Island I discovered that the men were perplexed and surprised that they, who are serving Her Majesty's Government not as mercenaries or as attached personnel but as a unit of the British Army, were not being given the right of citizenship or of abode in this country after 1997. I believe that they have a quota. A certain number of them may apply for and may get a British passport. But it is to me a source of some surprise that not all—members and families of a British Army unit—have the right of abode in this country if they should so wish when the handover takes place in 1997.

However, the discussion tonight is not entirely about them. It specifically relates to the maximum of 7,000 non-Chinese—most of the unit about which I was speaking are Hong Kong Chinese—who have, as the noble Baroness, Lady Dunn, told us so movingly and so vividly, no right to acquire Chinese citizenship, no right of abode anywhere else and who will in fact have been rendered stateless. We owe that ethnic minority group special consideration. I very much hope that the noble Earl will be able to assure us that, whatever other real and sensible considerations and factors have to be applied to this situation, those people will be borne very much in mind as a unique group.

Before I conclude, I would like to say that, unlike some other noble Lords, I have grave doubts about the wisdom of the line of action being taken by the present Governor of Hong Kong. I am extremely worried about some of the things that are happening in Hong Kong at the moment. I shall go no further than to say that I think that some of them owe more to political point scoring than to diplomatic vision or sensitivity. It is, after all, a people who after 1997 will be handed over to the People's Republic of China. It seems to me that perhaps we ought to think very hard before taking action which will so offend and upset the Government of the People's Republic of China that those actions may rebound upon the people of Hong Kong after 1997. If, as some noble Lords have said, the position of the non-Chinese ethnic minority group in Hong Kong is unique, so is the position of the people of Hong Kong as a whole. This is not comparable with any other political situation in our recent knowledge. Here is a territory and a people who will be handed over completely in 1997 to another sovereignty—to another nation.

I know that the Chinese have a reputation for sticking to their undertakings. They have a reputation —and a deserved reputation—for integrity in international affairs. But things can change. We have seen how things can change. The events of Tiananmen Square have been mentioned already in your Lordships' House this evening. I happen to believe that some of the reporting of Tiananmen Square by the British media was distorted and exaggerated. Nonetheless, it took place. I ask your Lordships, and especially the noble Earl when he speaks on behalf of the Government, to bear in mind that whatever undertaking may be given about the future of Hong Kong after 1997, things can change in China and Peking just as they can change anywhere else—and they can change for the worse as well as for the better.

I repeat a comment which I believe was made by the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh of Haringey. Like many others, I am simply not satisfied with the safeguards and the attitude that have been taken to the granting of nationality to the people of Hong Kong, and especially to the armed forces—the disciplined forces —in Hong Kong, and especially to that single unit of the British Army which still remains in Hong Kong but which has been given no special treatment in the arrangements that have been made. I am concerned about the people of Hong Kong as a whole. I can only say that if, as I think is probably unlikely, either the Motion or the amendment were to be pressed to a Division in your Lordships' House this evening, I would support them both.

7.40 p.m.

Lord Butterfield

My Lords, I rise to express my strong support and great sympathy for the Motion tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Bonham-Carter. I should like to say at the outset how delighted I am to find the noble Baroness, Lady Dunn, in our midst. I appreciate what a distance she has travelled in order to speak to us. She made the case movingly for the ethnic minority—the 7,000 or so people—many of whom I have had the privilege of meeting over the years in travelling to Hong Kong and to whom I believe that we owe a very great debt of honour. That phrase has been used, and it is right to use it.

I am conscious that I am in the presence of two former governors of Hong Kong who have done much for the colony over the years that I have been going there. I was privileged to work on the University Grants Committee for the noble Lord, Lord MacLehose, and I am proud to think that I was involved in establishing a medical school and a dental school. The noble Baroness, Lady Dunn, helped us to get the dental school started. I have been proud to work also under the noble Lord, Lord Wilson of Tillyorn, for two foundations. One is the Croucher Foundation, which was much helped in its initial stages by a Member of your Lordships' House, the noble Lord, Lord Todd, and which is much supported by another Member of your Lordships' House, the noble Lord, Lord Lewis. I have also worked for the Jardine Foundation. I am sad that the former mistress of Somerville College, Lady Park, is not in her place this evening because I know how strongly she feels in favour of the remark made by the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, that a good infusion of Hong Kong's people and citizens—they need not be Chinese citizens only —would not do this country any harm.

As a chairman of those trusts, I have spent quite a lot of time face to face with young Chinese people. If there is anxiety in this House—and I hope that there is not—about a flood of immigrants from China (from the particular group mentioned tonight or from the Chinese people as a whole), I can advise your Lordships from my conversations during the past 10 years when interviewing people across the table for the Croucher Foundation and the Jardine Educational Trust, that I have recognised quite a considerable shift in feeling among those young people. Whereas they used to want to come to the UK or perhaps go to Canada for their period of residence so that they could take out citizenship either here or elsewhere in the world, that feeling has now been replaced by a great growth in confidence. I do not know whether the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, has encountered the same thing. When one says to those young people, "What are you going to do when you have your PhD or degree and have finished school or university here?", there is the immediate reaction, "I shall come back to Hong Kong". They say that the Pacific Rim is the place to be. It is therefore my opinion that there will not be any great invasion by these 7,000 people. They find life very exciting in Hong Kong. They are conscious that their economy is a strong one. They are conscious that they are beside an enormous and fascinating market. They are surrounded by very intelligent people. I agree with that view wherever it is expressed.

I hope very much that the noble Earl will do whatever he can within government and through the authorities to ensure that the people mentioned in the Motion in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Bonham-Carter, get fair play. I hope that they will be given the chance to come here. As I said, I do not believe that many of the 7,000 will do so. Of course, some will, and we shall be pleased to have them. I can assure the House that the parents and children of this so-called "minority", to whom I have given scholarships, will not do us any harm at all. They will do us good. I hope that whatever can be done by those present in the Chamber to encourage the Government to have the generosity to see that these people are special and to help them with their citizenship will be done. As the noble Lord, Lord Wilson, pointed out, it is important that we consider also the citizenship of the children and grandchildren of the people in that group. If we can do that, I hope that it will be carried forward as a debt of honour.

7.46 p.m.

Lord Beaumont of Whitley

My Lords, when I was about to be sacked from my first job, which was that of Assistant Chaplain at St. John's Cathedral, Hong Kong, an imaginative bishop stepped in and made me, at an inconceivably early age, vicar of Christ Church, Kowloon Tong. I say "an imaginative bishop" and not just a helpful one because R.O. Hall, as many of your Lordships will know, was also the first Anglican bishop (by about 30 years) to ordain a woman priest, and thereby proved that his promotion of myself was not an isolated stroke of genius.

My new parishioners were to a large extent the English-speaking Anglicans of the New Territories beyond Boundary Road, and a majority of them were Eurasians. Quite a number of them were members of the ethnic minorities about whom we are talking this evening. I thought of them even then as the heart and strength of the colony. They did not belong to the somewhat frenetic society of expatriates, living on the Peak, whom I knew reasonably well from my time at the cathedral; nor did they belong to the Chinese, looking for the most part towards Peking or Taiwan. They were true Hong Kong people, many of them products of schools such as the Diocesan Boys' School and the Diocesan Girls' School, although many had their own non-Christian religions. Their home was British Hong Kong—not just as a place, but as a concept.

These people must not be left without right of nationality and abode. They must not merely be promised, "Things will not go wrong; but if they do, we will bail you out if we can, and we still happen to feel like it; and"—as has been mentioned—"if we are still able to". They must not be subject to a points system which favours the strong and the rich at the expense of the poor and the weak.

The Government of this country, under any of the parties which has been in power since the decline of the Empire, have a bad record in looking after those who are loyal to them. I cut my teeth in your Lordships' House on the Kenyan Asians legislation—and I know. These days I am involved with the people of St. Helena who are not being treated as well as they might be. But here we are talking about a measurable and manageable number—not about the enormous numbers with which we were scared in relation to the Kenyan Asians. It will put no strain on this country to give them right of abode and nationality; and, as has been pointed out by almost every speaker, we shall benefit from that.

I go to Hong Kong in August with a delegation of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association. I hope to see those who were my people. I speak tonight because I could not face them without having spoken. But I also hope to speak to them of the good news which I believe the Government will have to give them sooner or later, and which they would do much better to give them now rather than later.

7.50 p.m.

Lord Wyatt of Weeford

My Lords, I apologise for not being here at the start of the debate which took place rather earlier than I thought it would. Unfortunately, I missed some of the speech of my noble friend Lady Dunn, who brings with her the unquenchable spirit of Hong Kong. I should like also to pay tribute to the noble Baroness, Lady Thatcher, who, when she was Prime Minister, fought harder than anyone to ensure that the Hong Kong people obtained some passports—but perhaps not as many as she or I would have liked. At the time. she faced great opposition from within her own departments of government. Hong Kong should know that it is due to her that they received the passports that they in the end received.

On 29th June 1990, the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, said: It would not have been sensible to write the details of the scheme into the Bill. They have to be kept flexible so that Parliament can, if necessary, be asked to approve changes later on in response to changing circumstances in Hong Kong".—[Official Report, 29/6/90; col. 1824.] I am sure that the noble Baroness, Lady Thatcher, took that to mean, as I did, that should circumstances change, there would be a look to see whether extra passports could be given, if necessary. I am glad to see that she nods her head in agreement.

The situation has changed, in some ways quite remarkably. After the Tiananmen Square affair, opinion in Peking hardened against the students and supporters of the Tiananmen students in Hong Kong. It hardened also against the students in Peking. Many of them were sent to political prisoner camps where they have been treated with the utmost cruelty and violence to "rehabilitate" them, as the famous communist term goes. Some of them are still there. I am afraid that that may happen to any Chinese person who served with the British Armed Forces during our period in Hong Kong. The number of passports necessary, as the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, said, is small; and, if nothing else can be done, they must be protected against any form of reprisal which might be taken against them if Peking felt so disposed. I should not like to think of them put into political prisoner camps in mainland China for rehabilitation.

We need not be afraid of upsetting unduly the Peking authorities by changing a little the provisions relating to passports for Hong Kong Chinese or members of the non-Chinese ethnic minorities. We should remember that China is a strange and great country. In the end, she looks after her own interests first. There are three things that she wants at the moment. She wants to be a member of the GATT, as Hong Kong is; she wants the Olympics 2000 rather than have them held in Manchester; and she wants most favoured nation status with the United States. Peking is not likely to show anger, cause fear or take reprisals as a result of us giving a few more passports to the people in Hong Kong, 3 million of whom were deprived wantonly of those passports by the first British Nationality Act. It was enacted because people in Brixton did not like being mugged by people from Jamaica. As a result of that Act, many people except those from Gibraltar and the Falkland Islands, were excluded from having the passports to which they had been entitled all their lives.

I shall support the amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh of Haringey, and the Motion tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Bonham-Carter. I know that the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, has a kind heart. I am sure that he has been pondering with some anxiety the possible avenues that may be open to many of the people who feel they might be put in a dangerous position after we have left Hong Kong. I am sure that he will do all he can with the Government, because various parts of Whitehall can be stubborn, to ensure that everything possible is done to increase the number of passports issued.

7.55 p.m.

Lord St. John of Bletso

My Lords, in my brief contribution I do not want to discuss the impact of the two amendment orders which the Minister so clearly outlined. They provide an element of flexibility to the British Nationality (Hong Kong) Act 1980, a fair allocation for the second tranche of applications for British citizenship and a timetable for the orderly registration of those applying for British national ordinary status. However, the orders do not provide for proper nationality status for the non-Chinese ethnic minorities who are British dependent territory citizens of Hong Kong. It is to that end, as have most other noble Lords who have spoken this evening, that I wish to address my remarks and, in so doing, to support the Motion tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Bonham-Carter.

The subject was debated in the other place on 9th July. It is well known that a central objective of Her Majesty's Government in her negotiations on Hong Kong with China has been the desire to protect the rights, freedoms and prosperity of the peoples they will hand over to Chinese rule in July 1997. One of the basic rights is the right to nationality.

Most noble Lords, in particular my noble friend Lady Dunn in a most moving and convincing speech, have drawn attention to the plight of the non-Chinese ethnic minorities post-1997. It is seen by many as an embarrassing loose end to the Sino-British agreement. The history of the involvement in Hong Kong of the non-Chinese ethnic minorities is well documented. They have established a community that is highly respected for its social and economic contribution to the colony's development. Many have lived in Hong Kong for generations and have few or no ties elsewhere. They include major employers and senior figures in finance and government. I understand that until recently the Indian population, which makes up a minuscule percentage of the colony's population, contributed almost 10 per cent. towards the colony's wealth.

Because those minorities are not ethnic Chinese, as the noble Lord, Lord Bonham-Carter, said, China's race-based law gives them no automatic right to Chinese nationality, even if they wished to take it, although the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department gave assurances in another place in the debate on 9th July that, The Joint Declaration and article 24(6) of the Basic Law guarantee the ethnic minorities the right of abode in Hong Kong … The Peking authorities have said that people in Hong Kong who are not ethnically Chinese are welcome to remain and that it is open to them to apply for Chinese citizenship". —[Official Report, Commons, 9/7/93; col. 651.] However, as I understand it, there is a real fear that the Chinese government will, at best, grant second class citizenship to those people, and could effectively exclude them from becoming chief executives of their own companies or from filling senior civil service and police posts. The noble Lord, Lord Bonham-Carter, has already mentioned that the Chinese authorities consider the British national (overseas) documents to be of no more value than travel documents. Although these minorities have been offered the token status of British overseas citizenship it has been mentioned by many noble Lords that it does not confer the right of abode in Britain nor British consular protection in Hong Kong, and that will expire with the first generation.

While the Home Secretary has said that these ethnic minorities in Hong Kong can apply for British citizenship under the selection scheme established by the British Nationality (Hong Kong) Act 1990, presumably under the section relating to key entrepreneurs, I would argue that this is a touch elitist, in particular as the points allocated to the criteria of experience, education, training and special circumstances could favour the more affluent and successful applicants over those who are less privileged.

It has been argued that for Her Majesty's Government to refuse the non-Chinese minorities in Hong Kong the right to British citizenship could be a violation of their obligations under the 1961 Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness. Article 10 obliges any state involved in the transfer of territory, to secure that no person shall become stateless as a result". A concern has been raised that it would set a dangerous precedent if these non-Chinese minorities were to be given British citizenship. Many noble Lords have raised that point tonight. Miss Emily Lau, who led the recent delegation from the Hong Kong Legislative Council was emphatic that LEGCO did not believe that giving these people British citizenship would create a precedent. She said: We think they stand in a rather unique and precarious situation". So, in conclusion, it is my hope that the Government will take the advice of the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh of Haringey, and take a more flexible arid humanitarian approach to the plight of the non-Chinese ethnic minorities. As a leading article in The Times of 1lth June put it: If Britain does not offer them passports they will find themselves in a legal no-man's land, with no nation, no passport, no home and no rights". It is for those reasons that I support the Motion.

8.3 p.m.

Lord Willoughby de Broke

My Lords, as the last speaker on the list before the winding-up speeches, I shall be brief. I hope that I shall eclipse the record of 30 seconds set by my noble friend Lord Marlesford. The case has been well put by all noble Lords who have spoken, and I have little to add. I wish to underline only two points. The first was made by the noble Lord, Lord Wilson of Tillyorn. It is that the success of the British nationality package in 1990 was in anchoring people in Hong Kong. I believe that the same reasoning should apply to the 7,000 non-ethnic Chinese who will not come here but who will wish to stay in Hong Kong. After all, they were born there —some are second generation—and they will wish to stay where their lives and friends are and will not wish to come to this country. My honourable friend the Under-Secretary of State in another place recognised that the nationality package would not meet their requirements. He admitted that candidly in the debate on 9th July.

Secondly, I wish to contrast the position of the citizens of Macao. Other noble Lords have made the point and it is worth underlining. One hundred thousand citizens of Macao could come into this country and have the right of abode. Perhaps we may contrast that with the unhappy position of the mere 5,000 to 7,000 individuals who, although born in Hong Kong and some of whose parents were born in Hong Kong and who owe allegiance to the Queen, will not enjoy that advantage. That is grossly unfair and misplaced.

The case for sympathetic consideration has been most eloquently and persuasively made. There is every good reason to support the Motion and no good reason to oppose it. Like my noble friend Lord Glenarthur. I hope that there will not be a Division, but if there is I shall support the Motion tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Bonham-Carter.

8.5 p.m.

Lord Shackleton

My Lords, it may disappoint the noble Lord, Lord Willoughby de Broke, to find that he is not the last speaker in the debate. Nor, since the House has been so kind to me, is it a birthday treat that I should be allowed to speak at this point. The procedure is a little complicated, as was pointed out by the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont. I query the propriety of the Motions. In procedural terms I prefer the amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh. That is not a criticism of the contents. I support entirely the noble Lord, Lord Bonham-Carter. But the situation is tricky. I suggest that the Select Committee on Procedure should decide the best way to deal with the matter. I believe that the Motion tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Bonham-Carter, is suitable, but I prefer an amendment to the main Motion.

It is also rather tricky that there is a time limit for putting down one's name to speak. I was unaware of the number of names, and I did not know that there would be many. After 12 o'clock it was too late for me to put my name down on the list of speakers.

I wish to speak mainly about the position of the locally employed personnel, who are Chinese Hong Kong. They are greatly at risk. For many years they have been immensely loyal to the Crown. Their future, which will be in the hands of the Chinese, who are not always kind to their own people, is by no means certain. I have in mind in particular those in the Navy. The noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, gave examples of the British Army unit. What will happen if there are repercussions of the kind that we know occur in China? Will their Chinese origin be arty protection to them? We should provide them with an opportunity to come to this country or at least to obtain British citizenship.

This is not the only time such events have happened in our history. I know of areas, in particular in the Middle East, where we have undoubtedly betrayed people who have been very loyal to us. I could give examples. This is a difficult moral question.

I have in mind in particular the locally employed personnel of the Royal Navy. That naval uniform has been worn for the past 80 years or more. Those personnel serve in every rank in the Royal Navy. I should like to believe that there will be art opportunity for them. There is scope, I believe, which was not apparent when the Minister replied to my Question. He gave a rather rigid picture. I gather, however, that the Government have a great deal more scope for providing opportunities for people who have not yet been successful in coming to this country.

Many people who have applied have been turned down. I wonder whether those cases can be examined. Some noble Lords have said that, because the people involved are Chinese, they are not in favour of that arrangement. However, we owe a special debt of loyalty to those people. We are very worried about them.

I support entirely the Motion tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Bonham-Carter. It was admirably moved, and it is splendid that so many good people support him. Nonetheless, I feel badly about the services. People who have loyally served the Crown may find themselves in grievous difficulties in the future.

8.10 p.m.

Baroness Seear

My Lords, it is normal for those who wind up a debate to devote their time to answering the criticisms of the Motion before your Lordships which have been made during the debate. The difficulty for me is that there have been no criticisms. Every speaker without exception has supported the Motion tabled by my noble friend Lord Bonham-Carter.

In his opening speech, the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, indicated that there are objections based on the fact that it is said that there is nothing special about the position of the non-Chinese ethnic minorities in Hong Kong. That argument has been completely disposed of in the course of the debate. There is no doubt that their position is different and is special.

It has also been said—and the noble Earl has said this on previous occasions—that there is something sacrosanct about the number of people who it was agreed should be allowed to have passports to come to this country from Hong Kong. At the time many of us thought that to fix such a number was a mistake because if those people had the right to come here, a great many of them, secure in the knowledge that they had a place to which they could retreat if necessary, would continue to stay in Hong Kong. Indeed, it was suggested that bearing in mind the rate at which the economy in East Asia is progressing at present, those people would be sensible to remain there. I have no doubt that a great many of the people about whom we are speaking today would, if they were secure in the knowledge that they could come here if events turned hostile towards them, prefer to stay and continue their excellent and successful careers in Hong Kong.

It has also been suggested that in 1986 we gave those people a kind of guarantee that if things became very difficult, we should look favourably upon them when considering their cases. I believe that the noble Lord, Lord Glenarthur, spoke with considerable honour and courage because it was he who addressed us and informed us about that in 1986. He has said that although the statement was made in good faith at the time at which it was made, times have changed and we have since seen the difficulties which have arisen. We have seen the events of Tiananmen Square and we know the difficulties that those people may encounter. We know that that guarantee given then is not adequate now.

Therefore, I do not quite know what I am supposed to be doing in winding up this debate. In order to say something, I have tried to anticipate what the noble Earl will say. That is all that I have to deal with by way of opposition.

I should like to re-emphasise briefly what has already been said. The particular needs of that special group are different from those of anybody else. There is complete support from the Legislative Council in Hong Kong, and there is no division about this matter. The people of Hong Kong are in a very dangerous position and the documents which they have been offered give them no right of abode. Should anybody want a travel document which will not allow him to put down his baggage and settle in this country? The non-Chinese ethnic minorities in Hong Kong are threatened with statelessness, and what they are offered is no guarantee against that. That is a position which no one would willingly contemplate.

I am sure that your Lordships' House will agree with me as to how convincing was the presentation of the noble Baroness, Lady Dunn. The mere fact that she has undertaken that appalling journey (I did it once) all the way from Hong Kong in order to speak to your Lordships' House this evening, and to speak with such eloquence and so convincingly must carry great weight with your Lordships.

I was privileged to meet some of the people who came here representing those minorities. I cannot imagine that they will ever be a burden upon the Exchequer of this country. They struck me as being the kind of people who, after being here for five years, will be buying up most of us, so able and competent are they.

I have never supported the party opposite, but I recognise that there is a tradition in the Conservative Party, if sometimes muted, which recognises honour and moral obligations. Let it do so this evening.

8.15 p.m.

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, there was a nice sting in that tail of the noble Baroness, Lady Seear, which I could certainly have done without. But I know that she says those things rather tongue-in-cheek.

This has been a remarkable debate. It is with a considerable amount of humility that I rise to try to answer some of the points which have been made by your Lordships. We have heard from two ex-Governors of Hong Kong. We have heard from the noble Baroness, Lady Dunn, who is the senior member of the Hong Kong Legislative Council. She said that she has flown here from Hong Kong especially to participate in this debate. We have heard from a previous incumbent of St. John's Cathedral. That is an extremely important position but not quite as elevated as that of the noble Baroness, Lady Dunn. We have heard from a "birthday boy" who regrettably appears to be no longer in his place. Perhaps he has gone to celebrate his birthday. The noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, said that it was no birthday treat for him to address your Lordships; but it was certainly a birthday treat for us to hear from him today. We have heard from a previous Minister of State at the Home Office, my noble friend Lord Glenarthur, who was very much involved with this issue. Therefore, it is with a considerable degree of humility that I try to address some of the questions that have been raised.

The speech of the noble Baroness, Lady Dunn, was extremely impressive. She brought with her her total knowledge of Hong Kong and all the problems which exist there. Of course there are problems and anxieties; and she knows about them. She was able to tell the House about them, and I am grateful for that.

Hong Kong is a special problem and it has always been recognised as such. We always knew that these difficulties would arise in 1997, and that is why great efforts were made to try to find routes through the problems when making arrangements with China and when making the arrangements as regards immigration and passport problems. We agonised over those matters.

The British Nationality (Hong Kong) Act was the result. I am glad that the noble Lord, Lord Wilson, said that he thought that it would be wrong—and I paraphrase—to try to tinker about with the provisions made in that Act. A number of noble Lords are anxious about that matter. In many ways, they have tried to revisit the Act and say that we should change the numbers. It has been laid down in statute that the numbers to be allowed into the country will be 50,000. At the time that the figure was arrived at, we tried to strike the right balance between maintaining confidence in Hong Kong and limiting potential immigration into the United Kingdom. It was a controversial figure and some people may say that it is the wrong figure. But the problems of immigration cannot be under-estimated. All countries must place restrictions on the numbers of immigrants coming not merely from one country but from all countries. Your Lordships will know well the problems which can arise in that regard. That was the reason why the British Nationality (Hong Kong) Act set the figure at 50,000 applications. It is also right to say that we cannot alter that figure without altering the Act and, of course, that means producing more primary legislation.

My noble friend Lord Glenarthur has great knowledge on the subject. I am most grateful for what he said. I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Seear, who said that he made a most courageous speech. He said that when he was in this position he gave certain commitments, but now he finds that times have changed and that he, for one, would like to see the commitments adjusted. Of course, it is fine for him to say that from the Back-Benches, although it is not so easy for someone else who happens to be responsible from this Dispatch Box. We are limited to those numbers and have tried to address the problem by allocating them to certain categories. That in itself was quite complicated, but it was done.

The noble Lord, Lord Wyatt, chivied me a little by asking why all such matters were not put in the original Act. He also chivied me the other day by suggesting that I had said that they had been put in an order so as to make them more flexible. That is precisely what the orders are: they are an indication of the flexibility that we are trying to use to show that, where certain classes of people have been undersubscribed in their applications, those undersubscribed places can be reallocated to those that have been oversubscribed. That is the point of one of the orders that is before the House this evening.

I know that noble Lords are all concerned about the matter. I also share that concern. I can only hope that we can avoid calling a Division; but of course, it is up to your Lordships to decide what to do. However, I think that it would be a pity if it were to appear that there is some division of concern within the House on the matter. We are all concerned to try to reach the right solution.

I am glad to see that the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, has now returned to his place. Perhaps I may reiterate what I said earlier when he had momentarily absented himself from the Chamber. I said that we were glad that he came to the House to make a speech on his birthday. I also said that although he may have found it to be no birthday treat, it was indeed a treat for us. However, the noble Lord was concerned about the services. The whole purpose of the order is to try to meet the point that he made; namely, to reallocate those places of underdemand to those places which have shown greater demand.

The noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, said that the issues of principle are still at stake. I can only say that they were decided as such at the time of the British Nationality (Hong Kong) Act. That is how we try to deal with those provisions. The noble Lord said that people were expected to apply up to the 30th June 1997 and that administrative convenience had been put above the interests of the people of Hong Kong. That is not in fact true. Of course, people have the right to apply up to the 30th June but the practical effect is that if vast numbers apply on 1st June or on 28th June they simply cannot be processed in time. That is why we have introduced the second order; to try and phase in the applications in the full knowledge that everyone who is entitled to it will be able to obtain citizenship.

Many speakers referred to Macao., among them I believe were the noble Lords, Lord McIntosh and Lord Chalfont and my noble friend Lord Willoughby de Broke. In fact, the matter was mentioned only recently during Question Time. It is not the case that Portugal is granting citizenship to all residents of Macao. People from Hong Kong cannot simply travel and acquire Portuguese citizenship. Residence in Macao does not lead automatically to acquisition of Portuguese citizenship. Naturalisation requires six years' residence with good character, economic independence and the ability to speak Portuguese. It is also discretionary and given sparingly on a case-by-case basis. It is only children who are born in Macao to Portuguese citizens who automatically acquire Portuguese citizenship. It is only Portuguese nationals (there are about 100,000 of them in Macao) who have the right of abode in Portugal and who are able, thereby, to exercise the European Community treaties' rights and travel throughout the Community.

The arguments that have been of most concern to your Lordships this evening are those about. the non-ethnic Chinese minorities. They tend to be mostly people of Indian or Pakistani origin. The arguments fall into about four categories: first, that those people will not have a proper nationality and passport; secondly, that they will not have the right of abode in Hong Kong; thirdly, that they will be stateless; and, fourthly, that they will not be able to transmit their nationality to future generations.

Perhaps I may take those arguments in turn. I shall start first with the question of proper nationality and passport. It has been said that after 1997 those people will not have proper nationalities or proper passports. That refers to what they see as the inferior status of a British national (overseas) or British overseas citizen and their related passports. I do not think that those nationality statuses—or "stati"—are in any way inferior to British dependent territory citizenship. There are over a million people in the world who have British overseas citizenship and the British overseas citizenship passport is well established. Holders of those passports and of British national (overseas) passports do not need entry clearance for visits to the United Kingdom; although, like anyone else, they do need entry clearance if they wish to come here on a more permanent basis. Both the British national (overseas) and British overseas citizen passports give the holders an entitlement to register as British citizens, provided that they have completed five years' residence in the United Kingdom and that they have achieved settled status.

My noble friend Lord Marlesford was concerned about the latter. Such people do not need entry clearance. They can stay for six months, but, like everyone else who wants to stay longer, they have to apply under the immigration rules for settlement in the United Kingdom. Thereafter, after they have been here for five years, they are entitled to British citizenship.

Those passports also confer British consular protection anywhere in the world, and will do so in the Hong Kong special administrative region after 1997, provided that the holders are not Chinese nationals as well. The ethnic minorities who at present hold British dependent territory citizenship will, therefore, be in no worse position in those respects after becoming British national (overseas) or British overseas citizens than they are now.

I turn now to the right of abode, which is a matter to which many speakers referred. The Joint Declaration and Article 24(6) of the Basic Law guarantee the ethnic minorities the right of abode in Hong Kong if they do not have a right of abode elsewhere. The Chinese authorities have made it quite clear that those people are welcome to remain and that, if they so wish, they can apply for Chinese citizenship. Their right of abode position will, therefore, be exactly the same after 1997 as it was before.

I shall now deal with the condition of statelessness. I believe that many speakers referred to it, including the noble Lord, Lord Wilson. People claim that those ethnic minorities, their children and their grandchildren will be left stateless. If I may say so, that is not strictly accurate. Specific provision was made in Article 6 of the Hong Kong (British Nationality) Order 1986 in order to deal with that problem. I should perhaps remind your Lordships that the Article says: Where a person ceases on the 1st July 1997 by virtue of Article 3 to be a British Dependent Territory Citizen and would, but for this paragraph, thereby be rendered stateless, he shall become on that date a British Overseas Citizen". They are not in fact being rendered stateless. People who have British nationality—that is, British dependent territory citizens, British nationals (overseas) or British overseas citizens—before 1997 will retain British nationality after 1997. They will have the status of either British nationals (overseas) or British overseas citizens.

The children of those who become British overseas citizens or British nationals (overseas) under the 1986 order will automatically become British overseas citizens if they would otherwise be stateless. Their grandchildren will have an entitlement to acquire British overseas citizenship by registration, if they would otherwise be stateless. They will not in fact be stateless. This is all provided for under Article 6. Then we come to the problem of passing nationality to future generations. There is concern that people would be unable to pass that on to future generations. That is perfectly true, but these people are in no way unique in that.

No form of British nationality will be transmissible indefinitely in Hong Kong. The British Government cannot give indefinite rights to transmit nationality from one generation to the next, especially where the territory in question will then be non-British. These limitations with regard to future generations would apply even to those who had been given British citizenship but who had decided to continue to live in Hong Kong.

I accept that these are delicate and sensitive matters. I know that your Lordships are concerned. We have tried to meet the anxieties in the British Nationality (Hong Kong) Act. We have tried to make these arrangements so that everyone in their different categories would be able to take advantage of them. It would be difficult to make a special provision to give the ethnic minorities British citizenship. They are, of course, free to apply, like everyone else, under the selection scheme which was set up under the Act. I believe that the noble Lord, Lord Wilson of Tillyorn, said that the ethnic minorities had been left out. I do not believe that that is the case. They can apply under the scheme. Some hundreds have done so, and there is about a 60 per cent. success rate. It is expected that hundreds will have been successful by the end of the exercise. Records for the selection scheme are not maintained on the basis of ethnic origin, but I understand that a check was made on the basis of surnames which indicated that the ethnic minorities who have applied have been successful in the same proportion as other applicants.

I do not think the selection scheme itself could give preference to ethnic minorities. It is designed on an impartial and objective basis with points awarded according to certain criteria. We have been prepared to give an assurance to the ethnic minorities relating to their admission to the United Kingdom in the event of their coming under pressure to leave Hong Kong. I, like other noble Lords, agree that these people have given great service to Hong Kong. I believe that they should be adequately looked after in so far as we reasonably can do so. But that applies also to other people in Hong Kong. We have tried to be fair with all of them.

We have, however, given an assurance to the ethnic minorities. We do not expect that any members of the non-Chinese ethnic minority will be forced to leave Hong Kong after 1997. Their right of abode in the special administrative region of Hong Kong is explicitly protected in the Sino-British Joint Declaration and the Basic Law. There is no reason to think that the Chinese will not honour their commitments in that regard. We have, though, over the years regularly assured the non-Chinese ethnic minority in Hong Kong that if, against all expectation, members of that group were to come under pressure to leave Hong Kong and had nowhere else to go, the government of the day would be expected to consider, with considerable and particular sympathy, their case for admission to the United Kingdom. I can repeat that assurance today.

I come back to where I started when I said I felt these were sensitive issues. They are matters about which any government would feel acutely concerned. We are bound under these orders by the British Nationality (Hong Kong) Act. We have tried to be flexible and that is the reason why we have brought forward these orders today. I hope your Lordships will realise that we are doing our best to deal with this problem as sympathetically as possible. I hope your Lordships will find it appropriate not to try to call a Division which would create the impression that there is discord among your Lordships as regards how to solve this problem which is of great importance.

8.35 p.m.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, I rise to respond on my amendment. I am grateful to those noble Lords who have expressed support for the amendment. I note in particular the noble Lords, Lord Chalfont, Lord Wyatt and Lord St. John of Bletso, and of course my noble friend Lord Shackleton who, I suggest, knows more about these issues than almost anyone in the House. I say that with some diffidence bearing in mind the distinguished speeches we have heard this evening.

I am not convinced by the arguments of the Government. I do not think it is true that the Government needed to be limited in the way the Minister described. I do not think the orders show the flexibility that is required. I believe that in many cases they impose new bureaucratic structures rather than creating flexibility. The Minister said that it was possible through the order to re-allocate places in under-used categories to those in the disciplined services. I believe that that matter is probably better dealt with by future negotiation rather than by seeking the opinion of the House at this time. Although I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Bonham-Carter, will not follow my example, If beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

The Deputy Speaker (Baroness Cox)

My Lords, the Question is that the original Motion be agreed to?

On Question, Motion agreed to.